Back to the Finals. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

Western Conference finals: Game 7

Golden State Warriors 101, Houston Rockets 92

Series: Golden State wins 4-3

Next game: NBA Finals, Thursday, 9 p.m. ET | TV: ABC

• The story: The Warriors didn’t find their urgency until the moment it mattered most.

• The highlights: Houston without Chris Paul simply didn’t have enough fire power in the end. Missing 27 straight threes didn’t help either.

• Postgame reading: The Rockets may have lost, but they succeeded in their mission. They challenged the Warriors.


The Warriors didn’t find their urgency until the moment it mattered most

HOUSTON — The Golden State Warriors spent the past seven months telling the world they would be fine.

With 24 minutes to go in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, though, everything was decidedly not fine. The Warriors found themselves trailing by 11 points to the Houston Rockets, and they had spent the first half of the biggest game of the season looking lethargic and apathetic.

It appeared, finally, that Golden State’s hubris was about to catch up with it.

Only it didn’t. And, once again, the Warriors are back in the NBA Finals.

Thanks to their usual strong second half — along with the Rockets completely forgetting how to shoot — the Warriors emerged with a 101-92 victory to earn their fourth straight Western Conference crown.

Trailing 54-43 at halftime, Golden State looked dead. But Stephen Curry exploded for 14 of his 27 points in the third quarter, helping Golden State — the league’s best third-quarter team over this four-year run under Coach Steve Kerr — to a 33-15 advantage in the period that saw the Warriors flip an 11-point deficit into a seven-point advantage, a lead the Warriors wouldn’t relinquish thanks in part to Kevin Durant scoring 11 of his game-high 34 points in the fourth.

Golden State played better in the second half, but it was helped by the Rockets attempting to break the backboards at Toyota Center. Houston finished the game 7 for 44 from three-point range, including a remarkable stretch of 27 missed three-pointers in a row from the 7:07 mark of the second quarter through the 6:21 mark of the fourth. The Rockets made exactly one of their final 30 three-points attempts for the game.

Already facing a small margin for error without the injured Chris Paul, Houston shot itself out of any chance of beating the defending champions, who were more than happy to capitalize.

Golden State’s victory means it will return to the Bay Area and, for the fourth straight year, host the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, which begin Thursday night at 9 p.m.

The matchup was widely expected to happen when this season tipped off seven months ago. The way it came to be, however, was far from it.

While Cleveland has gone through one crisis after another to make it back to this point, Golden State was always supposed to make it this far. From the very first day of training camp, the Warriors have operated under an assumption that this season would be exactly like last year, when they cruised to 67 regular season victories before stampeding through the playoffs with 15 straight wins — ultimately winning the title with a 16-1 postseason record.

That hubris led to Golden State looking somewhere between mildly engaged and completely disinterested for all 82 regular season games — and, frankly, the first two rounds of the playoffs, as well. Mix in some injuries, most notably to Curry, and it left the Warriors with possibly the most uninspiring 58-win regular season in NBA history.

Even after all of that, it took a team as talented as the Rockets — which led the NBA with 65 wins this season and constructed a roster built to challenge Golden State — to finally make the Warriors look vulnerable. Between a comfortable victory here in Game 2 and a pair of fourth-quarter comebacks in Games 4 and 5, Houston took a three-games-to-two lead in this best-of-seven series and then took a 17-point lead at the end of the first quarter in Game 6 in Oakland.

But with its season on the line, and with Paul watching helplessly from the bench because of a strained hamstring he suffered in the final minute of Game 5, Golden State finally woke up over the final three quarters of that game, outscoring Houston by a staggering 93-47 margin to win by 29 points. That momentum carried over to Game 7, which Paul was also forced to miss.

“Everybody came to the same conclusion,” Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni said before the game. “There was just no way” Paul could play.

The Rockets certainly didn’t look like they felt sorry for themselves when the game started. Just as it did in Game 6, Houston set the tone from the beginning, playing with far more aggression, discipline and effort. That allowed the Rockets to collect 11 offensive rebounds in the first half while forcing the Warriors to commit 10 turnovers and shoot just 6 for 21 from three-point range.

As a result, the Rockets took their 11-point lead into the halftime break — leaving them just 24 minutes away from the NBA Finals, even as one of the game’s best players watched from next to D’Antoni on the bench, rather than next to James Harden (32 points) on the court.

Instead, after seven months of insisting everything would work out just fine in the end, the Warriors ensured that it did.

Now the NBA Finals await.


• In-game updates:

The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers will meet for the fourth straight year in the NBA Finals

The Warriors defeated the Houston Rockets, the NBA’s best regular season team, in Game 7 on Monday night, to once again reach the league’s championship series. They’ll face the Cavaliers and LeBron James, who will be making his eighth straight appearance in the Finals.


This one is over.

It was always going to be tough for the Rockets to beat the Warriors without Chris Paul — even with the game being in Houston.

But missing 27 straight three-pointers? That makes it pretty much impossible.

That cold streak, which stretched from a Gerald Green miss with 7:07 remaining in the second quarter to when P.J. Tucker made one with 6:28 remaining in the fourth, saw Houston go from up 13 in the middle of the second to down 10 midway through the fourth.

And against a team with as much firepower as Golden State, that just isn’t good enough.


The Rockets look like they went into the locker room, realized they were 24 minutes from the NBA Finals, and completely freaked out.

In the third quarter, Houston has started off 2 for 10 from the field, and has made several poor decisions. That has allowed Golden State, despite not looking very good themselves, to start to claw back into this game.

Still, the Rockets lead 59-53 as we near the halfway mark of the third.


Golden State’s hubris appears to be finally catching up with it.

With the Warriors’ season on the line, yet another disappearing act in the first half of Game 7 has allowed Houston to take a 54-43 halftime lead — despite being without Chris Paul for the biggest game of the season.

Golden State went 3 for 8 from the line (with all eight shots being taken by Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson), committed 10 turnovers and allowed Houston to grab 11 offensive rebounds. To top it all off, the Warriors — for the second time in this series — allowed the Rockets to go coast-to-coast for a layup in less than five seconds to end the half.

Simply put, it was an embarrassing level of effort from Golden State.

The Warriors have been the NBA’s best third quarter team for four years running, and by a significant margin. It’s going to take one of those third quarters to extend their season. Otherwise, Golden State’s season is about to come to an end.


Golden State is starting to find some separation by pushing the pace, which has led to a Shaun Livingston dunk, a Draymond Green layup and a Kevin Durant three — all coming early in the shot clock.

The problem for Golden State is that Houston is answering with threes. With Eric Gordon getting hot, and Gerald Green hitting a trey, the Rockets have maintained an 11-point lead at the halfway mark of the second quarter.

These next six minutes (well, technically 5:50) will be pivotal. Golden State would love to make a move here and have this game within five by the break. Houston, on the other hand, is hoping to have this as a double-digit game going into the break.


I wrote before the series, and have maintained throughout it, that Clint Capela has the chance to be the difference for the Rockets.

He’s been the difference so far in Game 7.

Capela may only have four points and four rebounds thus far, but he’s been a massive presence inside. His size has made it difficult for Golden State to successfully grab defensive rebounds, while his threat on the lob from James Harden just led to a dunk to make it 34-23 Houston early in the second.


James Harden went 4 for 6, including 2 for 2 from three, and scored 14 points in the first quarter.

The rest of the Rockets went 3 for 16 and scored 10 points.

That simply isn’t going to get it done for Houston. Yes, the Rockets lead 24-19 after one, but the lead could, and arguably should, be much bigger.

Golden State is going to get hot and start making shots. Putting the Warriors in as big a hole as possible, whenever you have the chance, has to be the priority.


The Rockets had a 15-9 lead after Clint Capela dunked off a feed from Eric Gordon with 7:05 remaining in the first quarter, and the crowd here at Toyota Center was flying in celebration.

Then, over the next 2 minutes 38 seconds, the Rockets missed seven straight shots, plus a pair of free throws from Clint Capela. And, instead of busting open a game the Warriors were teetering in, Golden State was actually able to hang in there and, after a three from Kevin Durant, trail 18-14 with 4:02 remaining in the first.

That felt like a missed opportunity for Houston to extend the lead, and really get Golden State, already playing without Klay Thompson because he has three fouls, feeling uncomfortable.


In less than four minutes, we already have our first big moment of Game 7.

Klay Thompson, Golden State’s star shooting guard, already is in foul trouble after picking up his third at the 8:21 mark of the first when he got caught on a James Harden pump-fake and fouled the presumptive MVP on a three-pointer.

To make matters worse for Thompson, Harden made the shot. And then Eric Gordon made one. And then Gordon put Shaun Livingston in a blender and hit Clint Capela for a dunk.

All of a sudden, Houston is up 15-9, and the crowd here at Toyota Center is into the game. This is just the kind of start Houston needed in order to pull off the upset.


It’s a dream start for Houston here in the first quarter of Game 7.

After there were a lot of complaints about an unfair whistle against the Rockets in Game 6 back in Oakland, the Rockets have drawn four fouls — including two on Klay Thompson — in the first 72 seconds of the biggest game of the season.

If there is going to be a tight whistle tonight, that is 100 percent in Houston’s favor. We’ll see if it remains that way.


The injury news everyone expected to come down prior to Game 7 officially did: Andre Iguodala remains out for the Warriors and Chris Paul is out for the Rockets.

There was no suspense involving Iguodala, as Golden State ruled him out Monday morning because of the bone bruise in his left knee. There was slightly more with Paul — but really only because Paul refused to concede he wouldn’t be able to play until the last possible minute.

Given his hamstring strain was so serious when it happened in the final minute of Game 5 that he was unable to make it back down the court to play defense, the idea of him returning to play in four days was never realistic.

“Everybody came to the same conclusion,” Rockets Coach Mike D”Antoni said. “There is just no way.”

“He just couldn’t explode at all, he couldn’t push off on it. Just no good. I knew it was a long shot from when [the injury] happened. But [we’ve] just got to take care of a little bit.”

The task in front of the Rockets is monumental — but not insurmountable. If Houston can knock down a bunch of threes (thinking 20 or more), or turn this into a sloppy game that is close in the final minutes, the Rockets have the firepower (no pun intended) to win this game.

There’s also the matter of Golden State failing to get out of second gear all season long. It hasn’t caught up with them yet. We’ll see if it does tonight.


Preview:

The Golden State Warriors have spent eight months in a perpetual state of denial.

With a roster including four all-stars in their primes — and, likely, one day headed to the Hall of Fame — in a league where no other team has more than two, Golden State was expected to walk into this season and romp to a championship as it did last season.

The problem has been Golden State had the same expectation.

Instead of attacking this season with the same hunger as in past years, when they won 67, 73 and 67 regular season games and two championships in three seasons, the Warriors had arguably the most rote and disappointing 58-win campaign in NBA history, going through the motions throughout the regular season and even through the first 16 games of these playoffs.

Now, the Warriors find themselves in the position that malaise has left them: facing a Game 7 here at Toyota Center against the Houston Rockets, who led the NBA with 65 victories this season.

The Warriors caught a break they, frankly, didn’t deserve when Chris Paul suffered a hamstring strain in the final minute of Houston’s victory here in Game 5, which puts Golden State in an exceedingly strong position to win this game, despite it being on the road. The Rockets are essentially playing six guys — and, really, only five, given both Gerald Green and Luc Mbah a Moute are only playing a handful of minutes off the bench — and shouldn’t have enough talent to hang with Golden State without one of their two all-star guards being available.

But Golden State shouldn’t be in this position, where one high variance game could end its season and stop its chase for a second straight title before the championship round. Houston is more than capable of hitting 20 or more threes in a game — something it looked like it might do in the first quarter of Game 6, when the Rockets scored 39 points and jumped out to a 17-point lead.

Houston was shut down after that, scoring a combined 47 points in the final three quarters (including 25 in the second half and nine in the fourth). But with a home crowd behind the Rockets tonight, they will be able to ride out a hot start better than they did Saturday night at Oracle Arena.

Still, this game — like so much of this season — will come down to Golden State’s level of energy and focus. If the Warriors play as they should, moving the ball while avoiding turnovers offensively and making the kind of sound defensive plays they made in the final three quarters of Game 6, as opposed to the disaster they were defensively in the first, they should win this game going away.

But if they don’t — if they allow the Rockets to get going from three-point range and get their hometown crowd behind them, and go into the fourth quarter in a close game — Golden State’s season could very easily be over in a few short hours.

And, if it is, there will be one reason for it: the Warriors’ hubris will have finally caught up with them.


Postgame reading:

Whatever happens in Game 7, the Houston Rockets succeeded in their mission

LeBron James wills ramshackle Cavs back to the Finals in Game 7

Warriors dismantle Rockets in second half to force winner-take-all Game 7

The Warriors’ unbalanced roster is catching up with them at the worst possible time

Dragging these flawed Cavs to the NBA Finals would be LeBron James’s most remarkable feat

National anthem issue gets to heart of how the NFL, NBA deal with their players

LeBron James and the Cavaliers miss Kyrie Irving more than the Celtics do

The graybeard Cavaliers have turned experience into their best weapon against the Celtics

Only Steph Curry can make the Warriors the most dangerous version of themselves

The NBA Finals blueprint for the Cavs, Celtics, Rockets and Warriors

Luka Doncic should go No. 1 and other thoughts from the NBA draft combine

In Cavaliers-Celtics, a tale of two coaches: Scorn for Tyronn Lue, praise for Brad Stevens

At the NBA draft combine, mystery is more valuable than getting on the court

James Harden’s biggest advantage is his brain


Comment Q&A

Hop into the comments section below to chat with The Post’s Tim Bontemps about all of your NBA questions.